The look of complete shock on Gary Farmer’s face was priceless.
About 150 Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf graduates, teachers, administrators, family members and friends had sufficiently kept a big secret out of Farmer’s ears.
So the former football and soccer coach, athletic director, bus driver, athletic trainer, board member, sports hall of fame inductee and all-around ENCSD supporter was hit with a surprise Saturday when the football field at the school was named Gary W. Farmer Field.
“I never, ever expected this,” Farmer told the group assembled in the end zone.
Farmer fought back tears and covered his face with his hat.
Former students and team members shouted “We love you, Gary! We love you, Gary!”
“All I ever wanted to be was a coach,” Farmer said. “It makes me so happy now, and today is one of the best days of my life.”
Farmer was joined at the event by his wife Brenda, a former teacher and high school principal at the residential school for the deaf and hard of hearing, the couple’s sons, their wives and a granddaughter.
The couple’s sons, T.J. and Cameron, said supporting the ENCSD was a family affair, with the boys spending hours and hours helping prepare the football field to make it as sharp as it could possibly be and help their father and mother any way they could.
Students, teachers and administrators stepped up one after the other to say that Farmer was an excellent physical education teacher and coach who instilled good sportsmanship in the athletes.
“Today, as we name this football field in your honor, we express our deepest gratitude for your years of service, your unwavering commitment and the positive influence you have had on the lives of so many,” said Michele Handley, director of the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf. “May this field stand as a lasting tribute to your legacy and a reminder of the impact one person can have on a community.”
Handley said Farmer has dedicated his life to the betterment of the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf.
She said Farmer has always advocated the idea that sports play a crucial role in students’ overall development.
“They contribute to the holistic developmemt of students, fostering physical, social and emotional well-being and instilling essential life skills that extend far beyond the sports field,” Handley said.
The Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf has a strong legacy of athletics that has ebbed and flowed with the students, Handley said.
“Your tireless dedication to the students, your infectious enthusiasm and your commitment to the school always being the best version of itself have transformed lives and inspired us all,” Handley said. “This football field stands not just as a testament to the ENCSD’s athletic prowess, but also as a symbol of the values that you, Gary, have instilled in every student who has passed through these halls with you. This is a field where dreams were forged, where teammwork was cultivated and where the pursuit of excellence was not just encouraged, but expected.”
Handley said Farmer’s leadership has “not only built a strong foundation for the athletic program, but has also fostered an environment where students felt empowered, valued and supported.”
After the ceremony, Farmer was hugged and cheered by a throng of former students and teachers.
In the last two years, Farmer has undergone a hard battle with cancer and survived.
“I know you and you know me, and our hearts are the same,” Farmer said. “Thank you for being part of my life. I would never let this school die, never. I love you guys, I love you then, now and always.”
Ken Jones, chairman of the ENCSD Board of Trustees, said he’s pleased that the field will stand in Farmer’s honor.
Jones said it’s important that people like Gary and Brenda Farmer and other advocates for the school are honored for their dedication.
“He has put his life into it,” Jones said. “He really believes. His heart is into this whole school and helping others.”